Author Gary Shteyngart’s family moved to New York from St. Petersburg, Russia in 1979 when he was 7 years old. He has grown into a man of these two worlds and it’s often reflected in his writing. His best-selling debut novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, was described by Esquire as “Rowdy, ribald, funny...This superb debut [is] the real thing” and it prompted the New York Observer to claim, “Mr. Shteyngart has introduced himself as one of the most talented and entertaining writers of his generation.” His latest book, Absurdistan, follows the East-to-West-to-East trajectory of an obese 30-year-old Russian heir to a post-Soviet fortune. Much praise from the New York Times for it here.
Gary is taking part in a panel discussion at Makor July 20 with three other authors that celebrate New Jewish Fiction. You can find proper interviews and reviews about him on Web del Sol, NPR, The Forward and Nextbook. We took a different approach to explore his Russian-New York connections. After the jump, Shteyngart gives dual-nationality answers to some of the questions that made up the Proustian “Young Manhattanite Interview,” which was once regularly featured on the popular blog Gothamist.
What era, day or event in NYC’s/Russia’s history would you like to re-live?
I’d love to live in Petersburg in 1913, considered by some to be the best, most industrious year in Russia’s history (one of the restaurants is even named 1913). The city’s economy was booming, people had flooded in from all parts of the empire, and Petersburg could have possibly become the New York of the East. Alas, a few years down the road, Lenin, etc.
In New York I’d love to live during Prohibition. I love doing things illicitly. And I like drinking too. And those flappers...mmmmm, flappers.
What’s your NYC/Russia motto?
New York: “Do you deliver?”
Russia: “I’m not armed.”
What was your best dining experience in NYC/Russia?
New York: I’ve been eating garlic shrimp and mariscada in green sauce at El Faro since fiscal year 1993. Yummers.
Russia: It’s always the same – friend’s house, vodka chased with herring, salmon, kielbasa, bread, pickles, crab, caviar (the salmon kind, alas), cold veal, marinated mushrooms.
If you could change one thing about NYC/Russia, what would it be?
New York: End the mall-ification of the city. Throw out many rich people and replace with adorable starving artists. Make Manhattan much poorer.
Petersburg: Start the mall-ification of the city. Throw out the nationalist punks and replace with normal middle class folks. Make the city much more prosperous.
The End of The World is happening. Be it the Rapture, War of Armageddon, or reversal of the Sun’s magnetic field. What are you going to do with your last 24 hours in NYC/Russia?
New York: I’m going to do all those things I’ve never done. Kayaking, freebasing, karaoke, investment banking, and a trip to the Meadowlands. And then I’m going to pick my nose on the subway.
Petersburg: I’ll go to the Hermitage and stare at the Rembrandts one last time. Then I’ll set them on fire. Might as well, right?
The New Jewish Fiction reading at Makor is on July 20 and he’ll be back at the Y on October 20 for our fifth season of the Jewish Literary Exchange Book Club. Check out all the other great literary events we have coming up as part of the 2006-2007 Unterberg Poetry Center season, which is only available online right now.